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Fund ed first, House Republicans say

OLYMPIA – House Republicans, who say they are fed up with the slow pace of budgeting process in a session where that was supposed to be the main thing the Legislature tackled, argued Thursday for a new approach.

The state should set aside what it wants to spend on K-12 education first, then figure out what’s left for other state programs. They call it "Fund Education First" and say it’s in line with both the state Constitution’s declaration that education in the state's public schools is the state’s "paramount duty" and a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature must do more to meet that duty.

"This is not a gimmick. It’s a workable solution," said Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would make that change in budgeting.

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Oil barrel fee not likely, key Democrats say

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to place a $1.50 per barrel fee on oil refined in Washington state appears close to dead. Two key Senate Democrats said as much today in separate settings.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee which would decide how to spend the money the proposed fee would raise, told a breakfast gathering of the state Good Roads and Transportation Association she believes, like most Republicans, that it's really a tax, not a fee. The difference is more than just semantics. A fee can be passed by the Legislature on a majority vote, which Democrats have in both  houses; a tax needs a two-thirds majority, which they don't have.

The final decision on fee v. tax would rest with Lt. Gov. Brad Owen, who presides over the Senate, but Haugen said she thinks he'd rule it a tax, too.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said this afternoon the proposal is "not getting any momentum" in the Senate Democratic Caucus. Translation: don't bother putting a mirror under its nostrils, this idea isn't breathing.

WA Lege Day 25: House GOP to release Education 1st budget

OLYMPIA — House Republicans, who say they've been essentially shut out of the budgeting process in a session when the budget was supposed to be the main thing the Legislature tackled, will be releasing their plans for K-12 programs today.

They call it "Fund Education First", something that various Republicans of both chambers have suggested over the years in pointing out that basic education in the state's public schools is the "paramount duty" under the state Constitution.

This effort, however, would be more than a slogan because it would put down on paper what education programs they think the state should pay for. It's not a full budget — other spending priorities will be released later — but it would provide voters with a view of how their education priorities would differ from the supplemental budget Gov. Chris Gregoire proposed in November. At this point, that's the only other budget that exists in a form to which comparisons can be made.

Senate passes gay marriage bill 28-21

OLYMPIA – With votes to spare, the state Senate passed a bill to allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington, sending it to the House of Representatives where it also has enough votes to pass.

A full gallery erupted after senators passionately but respectfully debated what Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle called “as contentious as any this body has considered, then passed it on a 28-21 vote.

Those who oppose it should not be accused of bigotry, Murray said. Those who support it should not be accused of religious intolerance.

“This is a difficult personal issue because it is about what is closest to us…family. Marriage is how society says you are a family.”

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, go inside the blog

Senate passes same sex marriage bill: The live blog


7:58 p.m.

Same-sex marriage bill passes the Senate 28-21. 24 Democrats and 4 Republicans voted yes; 3 Democrats and 18 Republicans voted no.

Gallery erupts.

7:56 p.m.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, commends other senators for the quality of the debate. Tomorrow, people who disagree on this bill will work together on other issues.

"Regardless of how you vote on this bill, an invitation will be in the mail" from him and his partner, Michael Shiosaki, Murray said. Earlier in the day, Murray said it's their plan to get married when the law changes.

Roll call vote underway.


7:53 p.m.

Sen. Margarita Prentice D-Renton,: "I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm ready to vote… We've all had our say. But I think we've just about wrapped it up"

7:49 p.m.

Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said Americans have the ability to look at themselves and ask "do we need to do better." There was a time when women were chattel and some people were slaves. "The way it's always been is comfortable. It's kind to the majority but not kind to the minority."

Sen. Steve Hobbs, D- Lake STevens, said he's voting for the bill even though "it's not a winner in my district." But after serving first in the Army and now in the National Guard, he serves with some soldiers who are gay and are willing to "take a bullet for me."

How could I look them in the eye if I voted no? How could I stand next to them if I voted no?" Hobbs said. "I will never leave a comrade behind."

7:40 p.m.

Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said he grew up with a father who was gay and whose abilities to be a parent were questioned by society.

"We stand ready to take a historic step," Ranker said. "By continuing to differentiate between loving couples, we separate and isolate. I'm proud to stand on the right side of history. And I'm proud of my father."

Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said he doesn't judge anyone and respects everyone, but will vote against the bill because of his religious belief. He said he wasn't judging anyone: "I am no better than anyone else and I need the forgiveness of my savior every day. But I have to do what is right. .And for me doing the right thing is voting against the bill."

7:30 p.m.

Debate on SB 6239 begins.

The issue is "as contentious as any issue this body has considered," Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said.

Those who oppose it should not be accused of bigotry.. Those who support it should not be accused of religous intolerance, he said.

"This is a difficult personal issue because it is about what is closest to us…family." Murray said.

"Marriage is how society says you are a family…that a couple is committed to care for each other in health and in sickness."

"We share the same short moments of life," Murray said. "That is why we ask you to support this bill.

Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, says the bill will lead to silencing the people who believe in the traditional view of marriage.

"A bill that purports to be about ending discrimination leaves the door open for discrimination going the other way," Swecker said. The protections aren't strong enough for people with religous objections, he said, and people who don't want to serve same sex couples because of their beliefs will be discriminated against.

Opponents say marriage is about procreation, but there are no restrictions against heterosexual couples who are too old to have children or aren't physically able to have children, Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, said.

7:25 p.m.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, offers an amendment with a referendum clause, to place the bill on the November ballot.

"I think we'd be saving a lot of time and saying we do trust the voters," Hatfield said.

"The voters do have the ultimate say. They have the ultimate say when they elect us and send us here to make these decisions," Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. "Any bill we pass here…the voters can come forward, they can collect signatures and they can submit it for a vote."

Brown said this would be asking people to vote on the rights of the minorities and subject them to the will of the majority. "We're going to reject the concept that separate is equal," Brown said. "We have a nation of laws, and rights."

Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said there's always a tension between what you send to the public and what the voters send legislators to Olympia to do: "If ever there was an issue of what you send to the voters, this is it… It's more basic than our constitution, it's a basic unit of society."

In all likelihood, the bill is going to be put on the ballot anyway, Padden added.

Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, said changing laws on marriage is like trying to change the law of gravity. If one steps out the window, gravity is still there.

"I think this rises to the level of significant change," Benton said. "One that should be left to the great citizens of the state to decide . The founding fathers realized there were some issues that were too important for just the Legislature to decide."

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, no one thought of putting a referendum clause on it. To opponents who say the same-sex marriage law effects only one-half of 1 percent, protecting the rights of the minority "Is what we are all about."

Roll call vote requested: Amendment fails 23-26.

That's the last amendment. Vote on the bill itself to follow.


7:10 p.m.

Sen. Don Benton has an amendment that makes "perfectly clear rather than generally" that religously affiliated foster care services are exempt from the law.

Supporters argue the amendment is "duplicative" with amendments already passed.

"It's important we have our agreements with ourselves and the governor in the law," Benton said.

Roll call vote requested. Amendment fails 23-26.

7:03 p.m.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, offers an amendment that provides protections for religious-based organizations that provide foster care.

Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said courts place children in "the best interest of the child," and the bill won't change that, but supporters don't object.

It passes by a voice vote.


Sen. Dan Swecker, R-Rochester, calls for a vote on an amendment that would offer

Protects clergy collars, but what about the blue collar worker?

"The amendment reaches into our civil rights statutes," Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said. If opponents want to amend the civil rights statutes which ban discrimination for sexual orientation, they should do that.

"It's a problem in search of a solution," Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said. "This amendment is not necessary."

Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said when the sexual orientation language was added to the state's civil rights protections, "the proponents assured us it was never about marriage."

Amendment fails 22-27.

To read earlier posts in this string, go inside the blog

Ed Murray: ‘No doubt’ same-sex bill will go to ballot

Sen. Ed Murray, left, and his partner Michael Shiosaki discuss the same-sex marriage bill.

OLYMPIA — The state Senate will be debating the same-sex marriage bill in front of a full gallery and possibly late into the evening.

But it has the 25 votes needed to pass SB 6239, its prime sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, said.

The galleries have been filling since late afternoon, and at least a half dozen amendments will be considered before the final vote. One of those amendments will be to put the measure to a vote, but Murray said he was confident that amendment will fail.

The bill could pass the House and be on Gov. Gregoire's desk by the middle of next week, he said.

Despite the fact that supporters can defeat any attempt at a referendum clause, Murray said he had "no doubt" opponents will gather the signatures to suspend the law until it goes to the voters in November.

Appearing before the debate at a press conference with his partner Michael Shiosaki, Murray said Wednesday is "a historic day for gay and lesbian couples in Washington state."

When they met some 21 years ago, Shiosaki said they "never would've imagined this day would be here.

Although Washington has a domestic partnership law that gives same-sex couples many of the legal rights as a married couple, marriage is special, he added.

"This is the way society says you're a family," Murray said.

Same-sex marriage debate tonight in Senate

OLYMPIA — Debate over the same-sex marriage bill is scheduled for 6 p.m. this evening in the Senate.

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the bill's prime sponsor, estimates a couple hours for debate, although it could go longer.

Will probably depend on the number of amendments, and the stamina of the two sides.

We'll be live blogging the debate here at Spin Control, and providing full coverage in Thursday's print edition and the web page.

On minimum wages and maximum salaries

OLYMPIA – While a House committee considered plans Tuesday to cut wages for some of the state's lowest-paid private workers, a Senate committee tried to emphasize the state doesn’t pay the salaries of its highest-paid public workers.

The House Labor Committee considered five different changes to the state's minimum wage law, which rises with inflation because of a 1998 ballot initiative and is now among the highest in the nation.
It’s so high that it hurts employment, training opportunities and profits, business groups told the committee. Cut the minimum wage and those workers will have less to spend in the economy, opponents of the bills said.

The Senate Higher Education Committee, meanwhile, aired out a bill that would prohibit by statute something that currently doesn't happen anyway: using state tax money to pay the salaries of coaches and other intercollegiate sports expenses at Washington State University and University of Washington.

“Everywhere I go, people are saying ‘I can’t believe the highest paid people for the state of Washington are football coaches,’ ” said Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island. They’re often skeptical when she tells them that’s not state money; her bill would give current practice of using outside revenue to pay for intercollegiate expenses “the force of law.”…

To read the rest of this item or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Drumming up some support

Drum circle in the Capitol Rotunda.

OLYMPIA — The best thing about the Capitol is one never knows what one will find going on in there.

Sometimes it's a dairy princess serving up ice cream bars. Sometimes its the cattlemen offering 'burgers. (S-R reporters have strict rules about taking freebies, so I only know first-hand such things are available, but  second-hand that they're a big hit.)

Today was Native American Lobby Day, in which members of the state's various tribes come to the Olympia to push for legislation affecting them.

No fry bread or smoked salmon. But at lunchtime, they formed a drum circle in the Rotunda, honored Democratic Rep. John McCoy, a member of the Tulalip tribe, and basically filled the building with the sounds of drumming and singing.

The Capitol has excellent accoustics. The building rocked for much of the lunch hour.

Senate to debate gay marriage bill Wednesday

OLYMPIA — A debate of the same-sex marriage bill on the Senate floor is all but locked in for Wednesday, but the time is still up in the air.

The Senate has its regular session scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday, but that's in the middle of a busy committee hearing schedule, and SB 6239 is expected to generate a fair amount of debate. So it may be scheduled for an afternoon or evening session.

Once the debate starts, it could go for a while.

WA Lege Day 22: Initiative ads may have to list donors

OLYMPIA – In the wake of a campaign season that saw a single donor spend nearly $21 million on an initiative to change state liquor laws, a House panel approved a proposal that requires political ads for or against a ballot measure would have to name the largest donors to that campaign.

The House State Government Committee approved a bill Monday by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, requiring campaign ads for or against initiatives and referenda to name the top five donors to the committee sponsoring the ad. It’s similar to a rule applied to independent campaign ads for or against candidates.

Supporters said the public has a right to know who’s pumping money into the campaigns. That means the names of the actual donors, not "some fluffy sounding name for a committee," Steve Zemke, chairman of the King County Democratic Party said.

But opponents argued donor information is available on the Public Disclosure Commission’s web site and generally covered in news reports. "I can look that information up in about two seconds," Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said.

Billig's proposal is a response in part to record spending on ballot initiatives last year, including nearly $21 million in contributions, plus other "in-kind" support, by Costco for an initiative that ended the state monopoly on wholesale and retail liquor sales.

The committee sent it to the full House on a 7-4 vote, but rejected a separate proposal by Billig to place limits on contributions to initiative campaigns similar to those faced by candidates for statewide office.

WA Lege Day 22: House panel OKs gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — By a single vote, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill to allow same-sex marriage in Washington, turning down a pair of amendments by a Spokane Valley legislator.

Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued that all business owners with a religious objection to same-sex marriage should be given protection from any civil suit for refusing to participate. That would be in keeping with the state constitution's guarantee of "absolute freedom of conscience in all matters of religious sentiment," he said.

Without it, "private businesses will be subjected to massive new lawsuits," Shea said.

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said such concerns were raised years ago when the state first began considering anti-discrimination protections for sexual orientation and didn't materialize: "We don't have any evidence of any abuse."

Shea also proposed changing the bill to require couples getting married be residents of the state for at least six months. He said he was open to a lower time limit, but one should be placed in the law because "we don't want people abusing our marriage laws here in the state." The provision would cover all marriages, not just those involving same-sex couples.

But Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Lynnwood, said residency requirements "don't work in ther real world." It would put restrictions on all couples in which one is from out of state, and members of the military "would have a very difficult time meeting that requirement," she said.

The committee also rejected an effort to place the law on the November ballot through a referendum.

After all three amendments were rejected on voice votes, the bill itself passed 7-6 on a party-line vote.

WA Lege Day 22: Another committee vote on same-sex marriage

OLYMPIA — The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the same-sex marriage bill this afternoon. Expect a repeat of last week's hearing in Senate Government Operations: some efforts by Republicans to modify it, but enough votes to send it to the full House.

That's  not the only thing happening today, however. House and Senate policy committees — that is, the ones that deal with bills other than the budget — are playing beat the clock on the piles of legislation introduced since before the session started.

Friday is the first cut off or "drop dead" day. Any policy bill that hasn't been passed out of its first committee in the chamber where the bill originated is technically dead.

Well, OK, it's not "really most sincerely dead" as the Munchkins would say, because there are parliamentary ways to revive a bill. But it's definitely need of someone with a pair of electro-shock paddles.

So at the same time the same-sex marriage bill is being run through executive session, a Senate committe has a hearing on several bills involving health care reform and a House committee  has a hearing on bills involving political advertising and the initiative process.

Sunday Spin: Will the Lege go big, or small, to honor Japanese internees?

OLYMPIA – Gestures are important in politics. They can be grand, even when seemingly made on a small scale. Or they can just be small.
Among the small gestures considered most legislative sessions are requests to add some emblem or design to state license plates, to raise a bit of money and honor an institution, organization or activity. Thus we have license plates for Cougs and Huskies, and other institutions of higher learning; for the various branches of the armed services; for bicyclists and parks, pets and lighthouses, endangered wildlife and square dancing.
This year, there are proposals to add special plates for the state flower (coast rhododendron, in case you forgot), 4-H and the National Rifle Association. Extra money raised from the plates would go, respectively, to the Meerkerk Rhododendron Garden and other efforts to preserve plants; to the 4-H foundation to help replace money disappearing as governments tighten their belts; and to support state hunting and firearms training courses.
All good causes, to be sure. But do they require their own license plate? After all, given the cost of designing and producing a specialized license plate, couldn’t these causes net out more cash if, say, all the folks with NRA stickers on their pickups, who also were inclined to support a firearms course, just sent the cash directly to a special account. How many more NRA emblems does a vehicle need?
But there’s one other request for a specialized plate that’s not such a small gesture…

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, go inside the blog.

School Board campaign limits pass House

OLYMPIA — A proposal to place the same limits on campaign contributions to school board candidates that apply to legislators and other city and county candidates passed the House overwhelmingly Friday.

But not before some grousing by a few Republicans who thought the Legislature has better things to do.

Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said HB 2210 puts a limit of $800 on contributions to school board candidates. While most contributions are far less, in a few instances last year they were much more. One of them was in his district, Billig added. 

"These limits, they give confidence to voters, they reduce the opportunity for corruption and undue influence of large donations," said Billig, the bill's prime sponsor.

That was a reference to last year's Spokane District 81 School Board race, in which Duane Alton, a retired tire dealer and longtime Republican activist, gave unsuccessful board candidate Sally Fullmer $6,350, which was almost half of all the money she raised.

House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, accused Billig and other Democrats of proposing a "cookie cutter solution" — and even worse a Seattle solution.

"We have Seattle pushing its rules on the rest of Washington," DeBolt complained. Seattle can limit their contributions and "gum up their works."

"If Seattle thinks they need to limit their contributions or add a dollar in their electric bill to pay for things like elections, then they can do that," he added. The bill would make schools "go through more costs…when we're in a time when we can't even fully fund education, then I think that's absurd and that's exactly what's wrong with this place."

(Note: There's really nothing in the bill that calls for adding a fee to electric bills to pay for elections, or placing the cost of elections or tracking contributions on schools.)

Rep. Sam Hunt, D-Olympia, countered with a "clarification" that the district Billig was talking about was in Eastern Washington.

The bill passed 71-24. You can see the entire debate in the video above.

Legislators discover public has problems with Discover Pass

OLYMPIA – Washington residents quickly discovered something they didn’t like about the Discover Pass when it was introduced last year to raise money for parks and other state lands: It was only good on one vehicle.

So if you drove your pickup to go hunting on state range lands but your SUV to take the family camping at a state park, you needed two of the $30 passes. Fly from Seattle to Spokane and rent a car for your outdoor excursion? Buy another pass…

To read the rest of this item, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Same-sex Marriage bill advances

OLYMPIA — A proposal to allow same-sex marriages in Washington cleared its first hurdle this morning as a legislative panel approved it on a 4-3 vote and sent it to the Senate for a full debate.

Supporters beat back several attempts to change SB 6239,  either by adding extra language to protect religious-based agencies that want to refuse foster or adoption placements to same-sex couples or for businesses that want  to refuse to sales or services for same-sex couples based on "deeply held religious beliefs."

They would "protect religous freedom, an item of some consequence here," Sen. Don Benton,  R-Vancouver, said.

But some proposed changes actually went farther, Government Operations Committee Chairman Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said, and would "allow discrimination for any purpose by anyone."

The committee also turned down, on the same partisan 4-3 vote, an attempt to add a referendum clause to the bill that would force the measure onto the November ballot.

"A change of this significance in long-standing state law… requires more than a majority vote of the Legislature," Benton said.  "This will change our society in ways no one here can see, 30, 40, 50 years from now."

Although the bill currently does not have a referendum clause, opponents have vowed to try to force it onto the ballot if the final version does not contain one by gathering signatures. If they file for a referendum, the law would be suspended while signatures are gathered, and if they gather the required amount, would not go into effect unless it was approved by voters in November.

The proposal now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which schedules legislation for debate and action on the Senate floor. Based on polls of senators, supporters believe they have at least 25 votes, the number needed to pass the bill with a simple majority.

WA Lege Day 18: Senate panel to vote on gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — The Senate Government Operations is scheduled to vote this morning on the proposal that would allow same-sex marriage in Washington.

The bill was the subject of two contentious committee hearings on Monday, one in Senate Government Ops and the other in House Judiciary. The Senate panel is set to "exec" the bill — that is, vote on it in executive session after holding public hearings on other bills — in a hearing that started at 10 a.m. We'll update when the vote comes up.

House Judiciary is expected to exec its version of the bill next week.

Both bills are expected to clear their committees and be sent to the full chambers for debates.

Med School tied to “Jobs” package

OLYMPIA – Some $35 million to finish the Riverpoint medical school building may flow into Spokane as the top priority for the area’s business community finds itself on a list of projects to address one of the Legislature’s top priorities.
Or the project may find itself in the middle of a debate over the role of government in creating jobs. . .

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Spokane Med School on lists for big projects

OLYMPIA — The Riverpoint Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, a.k.a. the Spokane Med School building, is on lists in the House and Senate for big projects the state would do if the Legislature passes a major bond package.

The school is slated for $35 million on the House list of bonding projects released this morning by Rep. Hans Dunshee, the chairman of that chamber's Capital Budget Committee. A copy of the Senate list isn't as detailed, but the school is included in the $96 million that would go to four-year universities, a source confirmed.

Last year, the school got $35 million in the Capital Budget, which was enough for the first half of construction. Finishing the construction was the top priority for a group of Spokane area business and government leaders who lobbied legislators last week.

Being on both lists makes it more likely the med school would get the money if the bond program comes together. But there's a rub: This is not the standard Capital Budget supported by the General Fund. It's an attempt to pay for more projects by dipping into a series of special funds to sell bonds.

A coalition of unions, construction companies who employ union workers, church groups and progressive groups are pushing for a bond issue that will "jump start" the economy with more construction jobs to replace crumbling roads, bridges and water projects. But they want some $2 billion in projects, more than twice the amount in either the House or Senate proposals at this time.

Republican leaders, meanwhile, are cool to the idea of drawing down various funds for these bonds: We have a Capital Budget for infrastructure. They spent all their budget last year," House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, said.

Same-sex marriage moves closer to passage—and ballot

OLYMPIA – As supporters and opponents packed hearing rooms around the Capitol Monday, Washington moved a step closer to legalizing same-sex marriage when the proposal gained its crucial 25th vote in the Senate.
Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, announced she would vote yes on Senate Bill 6239, giving the bill a majority in that chamber. The companion bill, HB 2516, has the votes necessary to clear the House, Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said, and Gov. Chris Gregoire has called for the Legislature to pass such legislation.
Barring some unexpected shift, that suggests Washington would be the seventh state in the nation to pass a law on same-sex marriage. But it would be the first state where voters have the ultimate say on a bill passed by the Legislature…

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog

Same-sex marriage: Senate may have votes

OLYMPIA — A proposal to give same-sex couples the ability to marry in Washington state may have the25  votes needed to pass the Senate.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, a Camano Island Democrat who was officially undecided on the bill, announced this morning she would vote yes. One of  her main concerns, that religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage would have legal protections that allow them to refuse to perform such ceremonies, was answered by the latest draft, she said.

Some counts of supporters and opponents estimated there were already 24 votes for the bill before Haugen's announcement.

Meanwhile, supporters and opponents packed two hearing rooms, the Senate galleries and spilled out into the floor of the Capitol, where at least 200 gathered around a pair of monitors showing the Senate Government Operations Committee hearing on SB 6239.

After two hours of sometimes emotional testimony, Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, said the committee would vote on whether to send the bill to the Senate floor on Thursday morning.

A hearing on the companion bill in the House begins at 1:30 p.m., and opponents are rallying over the lunch hour outside the Capitol.

WA Lege Day 15: Overflow crowd for gay marriage hearing

OLYMPIA — The Legislature opened two overflow areas — including the Senate gallery itself — for the crowds who flocked to the capital to testify for and against a bill to legalize same sex marriage.

"I will not tolerate any disruptions," Sen.  Craig Pridemore, D- , who told the crowd, adding that public had a one minute each. " I want to caution both sides to be respectful dluring this hearing."

Speaking at a hearing is not the only way to make your feelings known on a bill, Pridemore said. "In fact it's probably not the best way."

The Senate Government Operations Committee started the day with a 10 a.m. session on SB 6239. House Judiciary will take up a companion bill

Jim Justin, Gov. Chris Gregoire's spokesman, said he wanted to dispel any suggestion that the governor doesn't fully support the bill: "She is 150 percent supportive of this legislation."

Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the bill, appeared at the hearing with his partner of more than 20 years, Michael  Shiosaki, a Spokane Valley native. Murray said he has waited 17 years to introduce such a bill to the Legislature; Shiosaki said they try to keep their political life separate from their private life.

"Commitment is always about being there for each other, in good times and bad," Shiosaki said. "Domestic partnership offers many benefits, but it is not marriage. We hope this is the year we can marry."

The staff presentation on the bill centered on its religious exemption, which does not allow any civil claims against a church or religious organization that refuses to perform or "solemnize" a same-sex marriage.

WA Lege Day 11: Abortion bill a ‘level field’ or ‘infringement to liberty’?

OLYMPIA – Nearly all medical insurance plans in Washington that offer maternity care would be required to cover abortions under a bill supporters described as a minor adjustment to adjust to new federal laws but opponents denounced as an infringement on religious liberties.

HB 2330 has broad support in the House, where it has 33 co-sponsors. But it's also a target of abortion opponents who held their annual rally earlier this week on the Capitol steps.

To read the rest of this post, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.

Spokane to Lege: Finish the med school project

OLYMPIA — Rain, snow and sleet is keeping postal carriers from completing some rounds in and around the capital, but it isn't deterring a delegation from Spokane from lobbying for key projects and issues with legislators.

A delegation of about 60 Spokane-area business and government leaders has been making the rounds for the last two days, getting briefings on capital, transportation and general budget conditions and an overview from the leaders of both parties in both chambers.

Rich Hadley, Greater Spokane Inc. president and chief executive officer, said the group's main emphasis this year, as it was last year, is securing state money for the Spokane medical school project  underway on the Riverpoint Campus. In meeting with the leaders of both chambers Capital Budget committees, the group made a push that the $35 million needed to complete the project, officially known as the Biomedical and Health Sciences Building, which is scheduled to start accepting students in September 2013.

The project is in line with both parties' push for more jobs and improved infrastructure, Hadley said: "On both the Senate and House side, they are looking for projects transformational to the economy" for a bond issue that could be proposed later in the session. "The rest of the medical school project is likely to be in a program like that."

Budget negotiators are also looking for projects that are "shovel-ready", that is, they don't need extensive studies or engineering but can be built right away. The second half of the health sciences and medical school building would qualify because it's already under construction.

After extensive lobbying by Spokane officials and a push by the Spokane-area delegation, the Legislature agreed to put aside $35 million last year for the first half of the project, which wasn't on Gov. Chris Gregoire's initial capital projects list. There was an expectation, but no promise, that money to complete the building would be available when needed.

Since that time, the state's finances have dropped as the economy continues to stall, and competition for state money continues to be fierce. But that's been true since 2009, Hadley said

Also on the "wish list" for the Spokane contingent is more money for ongoing construction of the North Spokane corridor, support for aerospace jobs and training, and opposition to any cuts to levy equalization, a system by which the state sends money to poorer school districts to cut their funding disparity with districts that have higher property values.

The delegation managed to start their visit on Wednesday, when Olympia got about 12 inches of snow, and continued Thursday when it was covered by freezing rain. But the meetings with legislative leaders went off as scheduled and "they were very respectful of the fact that we're committed."

The group has a reception at the Governor's Mansion Thursday evening and a briefing from the state budget director Friday morning.

WA Lege Day 11: Kastama to vote yes on gay marriage bill

OLYMPIA — Supporters of a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington state inched closer to passage today as one of the few "undecideds" said he would be voting yes.

Sen. Jim Kastama, D-Puyallup, said times have changed and "I believe we have reached the point where society is ready to recognize and support same-sex couples who seek the bonds, benefits and security of marriage."

According to a tally by the Associated Press, the same-sex marriage bill had 23 yes votes prior to Kastama announcing his decision. It needs at least 25 to pass the Senate.

Meanwhile, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, a sponsor of the bill, said major corporations including Microsoft, Group Health and RealNetworks said they will support same-sex marriage.

WA Lege Day 10: Medical marijuana bill draws criticism

OLYMPIA — The latest incarnation of a bill to add structure Washington's medical marijuana laws has supporters who don't like parts of it and opponents who do. 

People who operate clinics and dispensaries questioned the need for a voluntary registry of medical marijuana patients. Law enforcement officials like the registry, although they don't care for a provision that would allow patients to set up non-profit co-ops to grow their supplies. Some cities like flexibility for co-ops and collective gardens, others want to be able to ban them.

What they generally agreed, however, was that something has to change.

"This is like a big puzzle, trying to put all the pieces together into a coherent whole that will make sense for all the groups," Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, the sponsor of SB 6265 said.

WA Lege Day 10: Hearing sked shortened

OLYMPIA — The Legislature is attempting to muddle through with diminished numbers this morning in the midst of "snow-maggedon" in the South Puget Sound.

It did stick to committee schedules this morning, although many hearings had fewer people present to testify because roads are so bad. Late afternoon Senate committee hearings for Ways and Means and Transportation have been cancelled. The House cancelled evening meetings today and early morning hearings on Thursday.

Legislators who did make it in are making frequent weather references. In urging the passage of a resolution honoring the first flight over the North Pole, from Moscow to Vancover, Wash., Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, noted what he termed a blast of Arctic conditions and proclaimed: The weatheir is honoring this resolution as well."

The resolution passed.

For Spokane readers who think their local television stations go overboard with weather coverage when it snows, rest assured they have nothing on Seattle TV.  This YouTube video is pretty much on target for the Seattle reaction to snow. We' would have embedded the video, but the title isn't suitable for a family newspaper, even though it's a variation on a popular theme that is sort of "Stuff People Say."

And yes, Spin Control is covering the Medical Marijuana hearing by the Senate Health and Long Term Care Committee  from home on television. Some of the roads between home and the Capitol aren't passable after 10-12 inches of snow, and city officials have asked drivers to stay off them. There's no exception for people from Spokane who actually know how to drive in the snow.

WA Lege Day 10: Medical marijuana hearing this a.m.

OLYMPIA — A snowy day in the capital, but the Senate Health Care Committee does have a hearing on a medical marijuana bill this morning that is happening.

Witnesses and senators were a bit late getting in, but they did get to Sen. Jeanne Kohl Wells' SB 6265 after a brief delay. We'll have a report when testimony wraps up.

WA Lege Day 9: Pro-life rally despite snow

Rep. John Ahern, (center with back to the camera) addresses the March for Life rally on the north Capitol steps Tuesday.

OLYMPIA — A couple of inches of sloppy snow did not keep pro-life groups from participating in the annual March for Life this afternoon.

The event featured speeches from several legislators, including Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane.

Ahern asked demonstrators to support a bill he has introduced that would require any woman seeking an abortion to be shown a sonogram of the fetus.

Washington State Patrol officials estimated the crowd at about 450, which is down from some previous years with better weather.